USGS says Alaska has exploitable reserves of gas hydrates

Nov 13, 2008 01:00 AM

As per an assessment by the US Geological Survey, Alaska has another fresh set of exploitable energy reserves.
The US Geological survey says that Alaska, 2,000 feet below its permafrost, has frozen crystals packed with concentrated natural gas on its North Slope, and that these could be the next major domestic energy source for the US.

The study says that in the North Slope, frozen methane-and-water crystals, better known as hydrates, contain almost 85.4 tcf of recoverable natural gas, more than adequate to heat 100 mm homes for almost a decade, according to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. He said that new research in the extraction of these resources has moved the possibility of recovering usable energy from a "science and speculation" stage more towards "actual and useful".
He said the find could well be a paradigm shift as globally hydrates have more potential for energy than all other fossil fuels combined.

Reports suggested that government research has revealed that it could well be possible to extract hydrates using depressurisation, with a simple boring into the ground being almost enough to change the pressure to extract the fuel. In other cases, pumping could also result in the required pressure changes.
The Department of Energy defined hydrates as "ice-like solids that result from the trapping of methane molecules within a lattice-like cage of water molecules." They release gaseous methane, which is the main component of natural gas, on melting. Even though gas hydrates can be found all over the world, a combination of cold and pressure makes them especially dominant in the Arctic region, which already has substantial existing oil and gas infrastructure.

ConocoPhillips and BP, two of the biggest North Slope producers were also reported to have been involved in some of the government studies, with ConocoPhillips having researched the possibility of injecting carbon dioxide into wells to replace the hydrates. That would also allow the greenhouse gas to be impounded in the wells.
BP participated in studies that drilled for core samples of hydrates.

However, environments say that besides threatening the stability of the permafrost in Arctic Alaska, concerns about a risk of releasing vast amounts of methane in the process of extracting a relatively clean-burning fuel are also yet to be addressed. They point out that a lot needs to be done first with regard to safety, as methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Hydrates are also found in deepwater regions of the Gulf of Mexico, where there already are existing natural gas pipelines. Other countries dependent on foreign oil such as Japan and India have also been pursuing their own hydrate potential.

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